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Quebec’s healthcare a ‘go-away-and die system

May 23rd,2024 | News

The Quebec government has been trying to alleviate pressure on ERs, like the one at Wakefield Hospital, by offering a doctor-finding service known as GAP to residents without a family doctor. The funding agreement for GAP is set to expire on May 31. Photo: Low Down file

Close to 10,000 residents of the MRC des Collines are without a family doctor – a crisis that could get worse if a doctor-finding program ends later this month. 

According to the Centre intégré de santé et des services sociaux de l’Outaouais (CISSSO), more than more than 112,000 people in the Outaouais – around 9,800 in the MRC des Collines alone – are not registered with a family physician

Any Quebec resident without a doctor is eligible to use the province’s Primary Care Access Point, known as GAP. However, the program’s funding agreement is set to end on May 31. Without another agreement forthcoming, some say they are worried that they will lose their only access to family medicine. 

GAP, which was introduced in 2022, allows Quebecers who don’t have a family doctor to speak with a nurse who can assess their symptoms and, if necessary, book an appointment with a physician in their region. 

The government’s initial agreement with the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens (FMOQ), a professional union representing all general practitioners in Quebec, two years ago provided physicians in family medicine groups with a $120 bonus for treating doctorless patients through GAP. That temporary agreement is set to end on May 31. It remains unclear what will happen if the government cannot reach another agreement with FMOQ before then. 

Minister of Health Christina Dubé insists that GAP is “here to stay.” In an email to the Low Down on May 16, the minister explained that negotiations are ongoing, but the program is not in jeopardy. 

“We must ensure that the money invested promotes more access and care for patients. At the same time, we continue to work to improve access for patients and reduce the administrative burden on doctors, in particular by cutting paperwork,” Dubé stated. 

A spokesperson for Centre intégré de santé et des services sociaux de l’Outaouais (CISSSO) told the Low Down, “there are 17 groups of doctors participating in the [FMOQ] agreement [with the government] in the Outaouais, including two groups in the Collines de l’Outaouais.”

‘A go-away-and-die system’

La Pêche resident Colleen Ross, who has been on a waiting list for a family doctor since she moved to Quebec from B.C. five years ago, said she has been able to access care through GAP but feels that the system remains deeply inadequate. 

Ross explained to the Low Down that she requires frequent screening for breast cancer since her mother died of cancer at the age of 57. She was able to get a screening at the Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, and the results were sent to a doctor at the Wakefield Family Medical Clinic. When she phoned the clinic, Ross said she was told the doctor was retiring soon and wouldn’t be able to see her. She said the secretary told her that the doctor “had received the full report on my suspicious mammogram, but there was absolutely no way that I was going to get an appointment to discuss the results that he had received or the follow up tests that were required.”

Ross said she wasn’t given any advice for how to proceed. She said she got in touch with GAP again and was given another appointment at the Clinique Médicale des Collines, also in Wakefield, although the results of her mammogram, she said, were not shared with the physician-in-training she saw there. 

Although grateful to be able to use GAP to access healthcare – and worried that it might soon be terminated – Ross said that, overall, the provincial healthcare system “feels like a big f–k you.” 

Ross said that she takes good care of her health – including staying physically fit, eating well and avoiding alcohol and tobacco – but when she does need to receive healthcare, “I get kicked in the face when I’m just doing due diligence in terms of my own personal health.”

She added that, although she doesn’t regret moving to Quebec, since it has allowed her to be close to her grownup children, “in terms of my personal well-being and my mental health, it makes me sad that [moving here] means I’m left hanging.” 

If GAP is ended, Ross said that she may be forced to sell her home in order to put aside enough money to use private healthcare instead. She said this is a privilege that she has and recognizes that many Quebecers without doctors won’t be able to do the same. 

“For most of my life I have been proud of our universal healthcare system,” Ross said. But now, she said she believes “our health ‘care’ system has become a go-away-and die system for many of us.”

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